The oldest rivalry in international rugby: the Calcutta Cup is always an intensely fought battle between the Scots and their Auld Enemy and if the verbal jousting of the two coaches gives any indication, then this year will be no exception.
With Scotland coming into the match off the back of a far more successful World Cup than their English counterparts, expectation north of the border will be on a Scottish win.
The Scots will relish the chance to get stuck into the new England captain – with the crowd no doubt baying, Dylan Hartley is sure to be a target for some ‘treatment’ to rile the often short-tempted hooker from the Scottish forwards. How he reacts will be key in the English hopes to return to winning ways.
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It would be a mistake to believe that Scotland will fall back on the oft-used method of spoiling opposition ball and frustrating opponents to gain victory – they are a team that capable of so much more. To come so close to a quarter-final victory over Australia last year was not merely a fluke of marauding madness, they fully deserved their position in
So England must expect to defend for not only an onslaught through the forwards from Scotland but by their canny kicking game and genuine pace from their back three. Jones must prepare to have a plan B (and indeed C) in dealing with their attack before he looks at how his own charges might approach the game.
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For England, there are some question marks on a couple of their talismen from last year – both George Ford and Jonathan Joseph have looked somewhat pedestrian in the blue, black and white of their Bath colours. Admittedly they often have been playing with ball on the back foot as their forwards have struggled to produce clean ball but their form must be of some concern.
Add into that conundrum the apparent intention of putting Owen Farrell in at inside-centre (a position he has employed with mixed success thus far in full England colours). Will the understanding be there between the midfield three or will they instead choose to use the left/right boot combination to pin their opponents back to their own 22?
Scotland too may have some concerns over form with Finn Russell hardly setting Glasgow Warriors alight so far, however, the good news of Mark Bennett apparently being fit to play will ease the worries of their coach Vern Cotter.
Eddie Jones, England’s new head coach even suggested that the favourites for the match should be the men in blue, (albeit he later ‘apologised’ to his counterpart and accepted the tag for his own
team), but perhaps the ‘nod’ to his opposition belies more than mere mind-games are at stake.
Either way, the mentality of the respective teams will be markedly different – England’s XV have to prove to themselves and the new coach that they are worthy to lead the charge through to the next World Cup. Meanwhile, Scotland’s men will be looking to put one over on their nearest neighbours and play with the kind of dash and confidence they displayed down south in the autumn.
Whoever emerges victorious on Saturday will feel the burden lift from their respective shoulders – even if only temporarily within the context of this tournament.
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